River Lee Heritage Project

River Lee at Ballincollig Regional Park, From In the Steps of St. Finbarre, Voices and Memories of the Lee Valley (picture: Kieran McCarthy)
River Lee at Ballincollig Regional Park, From In the Steps of St. Finbarre, Voices and Memories of the Lee Valley (picture: Kieran McCarthy)

This project is based on research carried out in the River Lee valley, County Cork (2006-2012) and published through my Our City, Our Town column in the Cork Independent.
2006-2011 River Lee Index-In the Steps of St Finbarr | Cork Heritage

Three books emerged from the project.

In the Steps of St Finbarre (NonSuch Ireland Press, 2006)

A book, which grew out my column in the Cork Independent, it focusses on the journey of the Lee and the key places of settlement, monuments and community leaders all the way along the valley. It contains lots of pictures and original material previously not drawn together (sold out).

Front cover of In the Steps of St Finbarr, Voices and Memories of the Lee Valley by Kieran McCarthy
Front cover of In the Steps of St Finbarr, Voices and Memories of the Lee Valley by Kieran McCarthy

Generations: Memories of the Lee Hydroelectric Scheme (co-written (Lilliput Press, 2008)

A book co-written with Seamus O’Donoughue, the work was published by the ESB to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Inniscarra Dam being commissioned. The work contains many pictures of the  Lee Scheme being constructed and pictures of the ‘before and after’ of  the affected landscape. It also profiles the positives and negatives of such an extensive venture for its day;  http://www.lilliputpress.ie/listbook.html?oid=84588740 .

Front cover of Generations, Memories of the Lee Hydroelectric Scheme, County Cork by Kieran McCarthy & Seamus O'Donoghue
Front cover of Generations, Memories of the Lee Hydroelectric Scheme, County Cork by Kieran McCarthy & Seamus O’Donoghue

Inheritance, Heritage and Memory in the Lee Valley (History Press Ireland, 2010):

This book is based on the series of articles that featured in the Cork Independent newspaper from October 2007 to June 2009. It documents my explorations in the parishes of Aghabullogue, Inniscarra and Ovens on the northern valleyside on Inniscarra Reservoir, part of the course of the River Lee. It encompasses much fieldwork and oral history testimonies. The book is published by Nonsuch Ireland (sold out).

Front cover of Inheritance, Heritage and Memory in the Lee Valley, Co. Cork by Kieran McCarthy
Front cover of Inheritance, Heritage and Memory in the Lee Valley, Co. Cork by Kieran McCarthy

Ode to Cork’s River Lee by Kieran McCarthy:

The area drained by the Rive Lee and its tributaries is about 400 square miles and has a number of tributaries. The principal drainage is from the north from the Derrynasaggert and Boggeragh Mountains whilst in the south the watershed is lower and supplies a lesser volume of drainage.

The Lee can also be divided up into three well-defined stretches, the first is the highland and foremost rugged section from Gougane Barra to near Macroom. The second section is the immediate area affected by the Hydro Electric Scheme encompassing Carrigadroid and Inniscarra Reservoirs to where the river meets the tidal estuary at Cork City’s Lee Fields. The third section is the complex tidal estuary of Cork Harbour.

The Our City, Our Town River Lee articles focuses on the first two sections and on the river’s immediate path and valleyside from source to Cork City.

River Lee in County Cork (source: Cork City Library)
River Lee in County Cork (source: Cork City Library)

The Lee Valley is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Ireland and echoes a human presence of over 5,000 years. The landscape provides memorable, panoramic to intimate views for the human eye, all woven together to create a tapestry of beauty. Ireland’s recent Celtic Tiger economy has brought unprecedented changes in society; it has brought affluence, immigration and a conflict of the global and the local. The Lee Valley has been affected by the architecture of the last century and twentieth-first century. The landscape has witnessed large-scale feats of engineering such as Inniscarra Dam and the associated reservoir to one-off housing. Contrasting all of that, the landscape is still essentially rural with a strong farming population.

The River Lee is an extension of city life. In a sense, the notion of a divide between town and country are merged. Places such as the Shehy Mountains or the pilgrim site of St. Finbarre’s Gougane Barra and Cork Harbour are connected. Indeed, the river for many of us Corkonians provides a link with times past and that a sense of civic pride. Many of us have crossed over the River’s bridges and have appreciated its tranquil hypnotic flow. It reflects vitality, engages the senses and presents a sense of mystery and secrecy. Despite the parapet walls, the River Lee is an accessible amenity that all can appreciate but for the most part in recent decades, we have largely ignored.

The geography of the visible River valley is fractured and diverse. It is a beautiful landscape, a landscape transformed through the centuries by people. The diverse archaeological monuments from Stone Age tombs to the solitary Norman or Irish castle to the nineteenth century churches reflect the use of the River Lee Valley and its scenery and resources by its residents for the nourishment of the soul, living and surviving.  The townland names of the ordnance survey reflect a human story especially the impact of human history on the natural landscape. It is an impact, which spans thousands of years.

River Lee at Carrigadrohid, Co. Cork (picture: Kieran McCarthy)
River Lee at Carrigadrohid, Co. Cork (picture: Kieran McCarthy)

For the majority of us Corkonians, we see the River Lee as an inspirational feature in Cork life, one, which is sacred. It is a feature, which each successful generation of Corkonian is brought up to respect, just like our other sacred places such as the Lough and Fitzgerald’s Park. This work seeks to awaken an interest in the welfare of the River Lee Valley. The history and geography of the Valley is hidden and scattered along its sixty-kilometre journey from the Shehy Mountains to Cork City.

The articles are not a definitive work on the valley but are attempts to highlight, discover, appreciate and explore an area through the voices of visiting antiquarians, historical societies, Corkonians, locals, maps and panoramic images. This work investigates the relationships between people and place, which have created different landscapes within the River Lee Valley. It discusses the different meanings of the river for not only Cork people but also for those whose life journeys began elsewhere and who crossed and were inspired like myself by its flow and the human and natural landscapes it influences.

Moreover, the articles are my call to encourage all Corkonians to go out and explore our own lovely River Lee.

Inniscarra Reservoir Lake, Co. Cork from near Farren (picture: Kieran McCarthy)
Inniscarra Reservoir Lake, Co. Cork from near Farren (picture: Kieran McCarthy)